JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's largest coalition partner on Tuesday suddenly withdrew from the government in a feud over reforming the country's military draft, leaving what had been the broadest coalition in years on the brink of collapse.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz had brought the party into the coalition just over two months ago to work with Netanyahu on ending contentious draft exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students.
But weeks of efforts failed to reach a compromise, and with an Aug. 1 court-ordered deadline looming, Kadima voted late Tuesday 25-8 to withdraw from the short-lived alliance, said Yoel Hasson, a lawmaker with the party.
The decision left Netanyahu with a slim coalition deeply divided over the draft issue, raising the likelihood the country could soon be headed to early elections.
"Kadima in the next elections needs to beat Netanyahu," Hasson said. "We can beat Netanyahu."
There was no immediate reaction from Netanyahu's office.
Under a decades-old system, Israel has allowed tens of thousands of seminary students to skip otherwise compulsory military service in order to pursue religious studies.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders reject any change in the current system.
The system has bred widespread resentment among Israel's secular majority. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled the exemptions illegal and gave the government until Aug. 1 to draft new legislation.